I cashed in my stash of copper coins – but it wasn’t easy, says Toby Walney
I’m worried that the writing is on the wall for a little change. The Isle of Man has become the first part of the British Isles to start phasing out copper, with the Treasury saying last month that it was more expensive to manufacture than it was worth. The Economist magazine called on the UK government to follow suit and eliminate the currency.
The Royal Mint says the 1p and 2p coins “remain an integral part of UK currency” and that the government has protected their future in 2019. But certainly, as we move towards a cashless society dominated by online banking and card transactions The demise of the humble copper coin is only a matter of time.
If so, that would be a problem for me. Like millions of families, my family sits on a large number of them. Over the years, we seem to have accumulated stashes of coins, foreign notes we brought back from holidays abroad, and now defunct coins scattered around the house.
They can be found in pots on bedside tables, mixed in with old buttons and household detritus strewn at the back of kitchen cabinets – and of course under the back of the sofa. I decided to go ahead and get a good pass now. Even if small change never comes out, I can turn crowded copper coins into cold hard cash. So, I got to work.
The counter has disappeared…so HSBC says no
It’s a large cache of shrapnel that my family collected at home — four huge bags weighing 53 pounds (24 kilograms). I carry the bags down the high street to stand at the counter of the local HSBC bank branch in the Hertfordshire town of Bishop’s Stortford. Having closed 114 banks last year, I should be grateful that they are still open, but as a victim of the “turnaround programme”, the counter has been uprooted.
Old moneybags: Toby Walney uses a Coinstar machine at his local Sainsbury’s and pockets £215.75… but loses £28 in commission
Instead, there are five machines plus eight interview rooms. Assistant Sandra explains that the renovation took place three years ago – and admits that the three “payment” machines labeled “cheques,” “notes” and “business” are of no use to me. She points to a branch in Harlow, 12 miles south, that still has a counter as well as a machine that can accept small change “if it works.”
She is polite and tries to be helpful, handing out over 100 plastic bags to put the change in before it can be accepted. These are one or two items that come in at £1 per bag; 5pcs or 10pcs up to £5 per bag; 20p or 50p pieces up to £10 per bag; Or £1 or £2 coins with a maximum of £20 in the bag. Sandra says that although the bank can’t help, the Post Office can take cash if it’s put in bags – up to a maximum of £250 in one trip. But assembling and packing over 5,000 coins into denominations would take me all day, by which time the post office would be closed.
Metro Bank customers can also use a “magic money machine” that automatically puts small change into your account. Some major banks, such as Barclays, HSBC and NatWest, also have machines that put small change into your accounts for free at selected branches.
Lesson learned: You can top up cash at any major bank that has a counter. Main branches may have machines that can also take your coins and transfer them to your account.
Sainsbury’s saves the day…but at a price
There is a Coinstar machine in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket that can hold small bags of change. Sitting next to the photo booth, it draws customers in with “Coins, Spend Money Outside” signs. But the small print on the screen reveals that there is a “Coin Counting Fee: 11.5 per cent of the total value of coins counted plus £0.25 per transaction”. I opened the beanbags and started pouring in the coins. It takes at least five minutes to sift through all the cash through the narrow mailbox network.
Shoppers look at me curiously, as the sound of money falling through the machine sounds like hitting the jackpot on a one-armed bandit in Las Vegas. “Oh my God, you have so many coins!” Please wait while we catch up, says the screen. The total comes to a staggering £215.75. Satisfyingly, there is a breakdown of coins – from 1,838 coins to two £2 coins – for a total of 4,782 coins accepted. Over 300 coins and assortments were spat out because they were foreign or no longer in circulation. The machine earns a commission of around £28. She took the receipt to the desk and handed me a handful of clear notes.
Lesson learned: If you had bagged the coins and delivered them to a coin-accepting bank or post office you would have avoided paying the hefty commission.
Websites provide a home for ancient coins
For old coins and old banknotes, a specialist website such as Leftovercurrency or Cash4Coins is another option. Sifting through the remaining 300 or so coins, I found mostly old 50p and £1 coins, as well as euros or US cents.
Banks only accept old British currency at their discretion. Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest, Santander and building society Nationwide all say they will put your old £1 coins into an account you have with them. You can also use a post office – if your bank has registered to take deposits with the post office. The Bank of England will accept old banknotes, but not coins.
I could have contacted the Royal Numismatic Society if something had happened, to be able to connect with a local collectible coin dealer. There are tenders such as a rare Kew Gardens 50p piece which features a Chinese temple on one side, worth up to £750. No machine will be able to recognize this, only eagle eyes.
Cash on hand: Banks and building societies are not obliged to accept old pounds sterling
Websites like All Coin Values offer guidance, as do the free smartphone apps CoinSnap and Coinscope. Leftovercurrency will pay 75p for old £1 coins, 37p for old 50p coins, and 72p for euros. But you must send your money before they pay the money directly to your bank account. Royal Mail Signed for 2nd Class delivery is £4.69 up to 2kg. I’m determined not to give away 25p of every pound, so I collect old one-pound coins (with smooth edges that were taken out of circulation in 2017) and head to Nationwide with £40 worth of change.
Lesson learned: Banks and building societies are not obliged to accept my old sterling but it is worth trying my luck.
Charity takes foreign money out of my hands
The Oxfam charity shop opposite the bank offers a warm welcome, a far cry from the high street banks’ clinical approach to cost-cutting. Volunteer Bob Kisby has no qualms about taking my money – coins, bills and even foreign currency. Other charities keen to acquire surplus foreign currency include the RNIB – which also takes old British currency; Age in the United Kingdom; and the Alzheimer’s Association – which also takes legacy money.
I also collected INR 600, HK$120, NOK 100, and 100 Moroccan Dirhams, all from family vacations. The donation is £35, which is enough to buy three goats for those in need in Malawi.
Lesson learned: The splinters you donate to charity can make a difference.
I raised £288… but it could have been more!
Our treasure was definitely worth digging through – and with minimal effort, I netted £288.07. It was unfortunate that the bank couldn’t accept my old £1 notes – if it had, I would have been £30 better off.
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